Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Does One Need Faith to be Born Again?

Does one need faith to be born again? No. Absolutely not.

Has Rob Bell gotten to me? Hell no! (Couldn't resist).

I say no, we don't need faith to be born again because faith is the result of being born again, not the cause. Scripture speaks of regeneration (being born again) as the completely sovereign work of God in which we are entirely passive. Just as we did not choose to be born physically, so we do not choose to be born again...

John 1:12-13, "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

Speaking of this same regenerative work, God declared through the prophet Ezekiel, "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules" (Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV).

Jesus, in his conversation with Nicodemus makes this clear too, "Nicodemus said to him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?' Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.'"(John 3:4-8 ESV).

Peter writes, " Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3 ESV).

Maybe even more telling are the passages that speak of our inability to respond appropriately to God prior to a regenerative work by God.

Jesus says that no one can come to him unless "it is granted him by the Father" (John 6:65). Luke describes this in the life of Lydia as God, writing that "The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul" (Acts 16:14).

In addition, Paul tells us, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV). How does one become a spiritual person rather than a natural person? It is the sovereign work of God - the wind blows where it wills.

Likewise, Paul says in Ephesians 2:4-9, "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." See also Colossians 2:13.

I should clarify - I believe those who are regenerated by the Spirit will respond to the gospel call in faith. There's a whole bunch more posts possible on the notions of 'irresistible grace' and 'effectual calling'. Moreover, saying regeneration precedes faith isn't so much a statement of chronology as it is logic. From our perspective this work of God in regenerating sinners, calling them effectually, them responding in repentance and faith and being justified may seem to all come together. However, logically, our responses are possible only because of God's initiative.

Augustine referred to regeneration as 'prevenient grace' - the grace that precedes our outgoing of heart toward God (Packer, Concise Theology, 158). Why the emphasis on regeneration or rebirth preceding faith? Going back to the passage in Ephesians, Paul explains that God made us alive when we were dead and did it solely by grace "so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus". If faith becomes something we do on our own, there is the danger of viewing it in a meritorious way - as though our faith saves us. That's dangerous. if it's our faith that saves us, the object of our faith wouldn't really matter, as long as our faith was strong and/or sincere. But it isn't our faith that saves us - we are saved by grace through faith in Christ. Christ, the object of our faith, saves us. God's grace enables this faith so that no one will boast, no one who is saved can credit themselves, and God gets all the glory.

Soli Deo Gloria.


Mark said...

Sorry, but this just seems to be an example of systematic theology gone wild, resulting in a kind of excessive precision.

For instance, what you say about faith would seem at odds with Romans 10:9, "if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." With you, I believe that those who are saved are appointed to be so. But what you've written leaves you in the position (I believe) of having to explain away the language Paul uses in Romans 10:9, as well as many other passages. I have no problem telling people they must repent and believe to be saved. I just don't see how it is helpful to go around telling people they don't need faith to be born again.

Moreover, I seldom run into people who are proud of their faith in the way you describe. Perhaps instead you could explain the practical value of your assertions to someone who wants to evangelize?

Mark said...

P.S. Glad to see they let your blog back on FB!

P.P.S. Let's have lunch sometime. I much prefer to harass you face-to-face!

Dan Waugh said...

I'm glad I'm up on FB again too!
My position is only at odds with Romans 10:9 if you make regeneration the sum total of salvation. I do not question for a moment that faith is necessary for salvation...but regeneration is the precondition to genuine saving faith - without the new birth, the Godward orientation of faith isn't possible. When God quickens an individual and calls them, they respond in faith and are saved.
And you're right - there doesn't seem to be much point in telling unbelievers they don't need to to have faith to be born again. I have little hope that too many unbelievers frequent my blog. I will explain the practical implications of not understanding it as I have described in a subsequent post (if that's ok). The post was born out of a conversation. I don't think I've come across to many people who 'boast' in the faith, but I do find quite a few who's confidence is in their faith, rather that Christ. Maybe the next post will clarify the 'why this is important' question.
Lunch would be great. I'm free!

Mark said...

So in your theology you're born again before you're saved? Still seems like systematization run amok to me. I tend to think of the conversion experience as more unitary than that, with there being multiple metaphors for describing different aspects of it. To try to provide a technical sequence to the operation seems a bit extreme, beyond the (to me) obvious bit about divine initiation. But maybe that's the main thing you're trying to say? Or is there a limited atonement subtext you're headed towards here?

Mark said...

Moreover, 1 Peter 21-25 uses the phrase "born again" and indicates that this rebirth happened as a result of hearing the preaching of the word. Limiting "born again" to refer exclusively to a pre-receptive act of God seems to me inaccurate, despite whatever analytical tidiness it might offer.

Dan Waugh said...

I wouldn't say you're born again before you're saved...but that you are born again before you experience a conversion of faith and repentance. Again, being born again, in my understanding, isn't the sum total of salvation, but a constitute part of it. Salvation certainly includeds regeneration, but also justification, sanctification, glorification, etc. A technical sequence is offered in Scripture in that, for instance, justification comes afte faith. We aren't justified prior to it, nor are we sanctified prior to justification. You may be at odds with where I place regeneration in the sequence, but I think the Bible clearly portrays salvation as a series of events that occur in order (at least a logical order).
Regarding 1 Peter 1, I have no issues taking that at face value. The Spirit brings the new birth but the Spirit doesnt' work in a vacuum. 1 Peter clearly indicates that the Spirit sovereing causes us to be born again, but the Spirit often (almost always) works in cooperation with the word and sacraments - not independently of them.
Last point, Romans 8 tells us the those in the flesh 'cannot please God'. Since I assume faith and repentance are pleasing to God, I don't see how they are possible apart from a regnerating work of the Spirit in which we begin a new spiritual life.
Talk to you soon.